Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Camping in Gates of the Arctic National Park
Camping in Gates of the Arctic National Park (Don Pendergrast/National Park Service)

Selection of a campsite is probably the most critical decision you will make in trying to minimize your impact. Gravel bars make excellent campsites because they are durable and well-drained, often have fewer mosquitoes than other sites, and high water will erase signs of your presence. Remember that high water can occur at any time so locate your camp well above current water levels.

If you must choose a vegetated site, select a location with hardier vegetation such as grasses and sedges, rather than more fragile lichens and mosses. Move camp every two to three days or before signs of your presence become noticeable. Wearing soft-soled shoes around camp will minimize impacts. Trenching for tents is unnecessary as is using branches for beds or caches.

Group Size
The cumulative impact of large groups on the environment is especially noticeable and lasting in Arctic ecosystems. A group of four to six people strikes a good balance between safety and environmental concerns.

Tree growth in the Arctic is very slow; a spruce tree only inches in diameter may be hundreds of years old. In some areas wood may be scarce or nonexistent. Because of this, gas or propane stoves for cooking are strongly recommended. A gas or propane stove is also good for emergencies since it is easy to light.

If you need an open fire, it should be built on exposed inorganic soil. Fire at other locations will kill the vegetation and create long-lasting scars. Only dead and downed wood should be burned. Avoid using rocks to construct fire rings.

All traces of the fire should be erased before you leave. Remove all bits of foil, wire, and other unburned materials from the ashes and pack them out. All ashes and charcoal should be deposited in the main current of a river if possible. A fire pan can be easily carried and it will prevent fire scars. If these steps are taken, others will not be attracted to camp repeatedly at the same location, allowing the site to recover.

Human feces carry harmful microorganisms. Bury feces at least 200 feet from all potential water sources. To promote decomposition, choose a site in organic soil. Dig a small hole six to eight inches deep. After use, bury completely and replace the tundra. Mosses, leaves, and snow make for natural toilet paper. All paper products, including feminine hygiene products, should be packed out or burned. If you burn your toilet paper, be cautious not to ignite any wildfires.

If you pack it in, pack it out. Land managers need your help to maintain these areas in a pristine condition. If you find litter, carry it out whenever possible. Buried garbage will only resurface due to frost action or curious animals. If a bear digs up garbage and begins associating people with food, you may be creating a dangerous situation. Check with local residents before disposing of garbage at a rural community.

  • The practice of Leave No Trace principles is essential to minimizing impact to the tundra regions of northern Alaska.
  • The principles of Leave No Trace are:
  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces
  • Pack it in, Pack it out
  • Properly Dispose of What You Cannot Pack Out
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Use and Impact of Fires
  • Respect Private Land and Subsistence Users

Published: 7 Oct 2009 | Last Updated: 11 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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